Communication on the pension reform: 5th season!
By announcing on Thursday, during his second press conference, his intention to carry out a new pension reform by the end of 2013, François Hollande has shown great determination. He has also taken a major political risk that he will only be able to overcome by giving its full place to social dialogue and by using his habitual skill. But he will also have to overcome some obvious pitfalls, and to do this he will have to put in place a communication strategy equal to the challenge that awaits him and that will allow him to win the support of public opinion.
Since the publication of the white paper on pensions by Michel Rocard, then Prime Minister, which François Mitterrand decided to close immediately, this will be the fifth time that the system inherited from the Liberation will be adapted to try to respond to the dual challenge of longer life expectancy on the one hand, and the low increase in contributions from the working population in a period of economic crisis and unemployment on the other.
Until now, all reforms have been carried out by right-wing governments (Edouard Balladur in 1993, Jean-Pierre Raffarin in 2003, François Fillon in 2007 and 2010). Neither Michel Rocard, Edith Cresson and Pierre Bérégovoy between 1988 and 1993, nor Lionel Jospin between 1997 and 2002 dared to engage in this field. And need we to remind that by lowering the retirement age to 60, Pierre Mauroy’s government largely contributed to the crisis of the system? This shows that the commitment made by François Hollande on Thursday, May the 16th goes against the deep-seated tendencies of his electorate and of a large part of his parliamentary majority.
The President will therefore have to make a considerable effort of pedagogy to overcome these foreseeable blockages. And the political confrontation that lies ahead can be explosive. It will largely be a battle of communication.
Moreover, by going back to 60 years for long careers at the beginning of his five-year term, François Hollande deprived himself of the main positive counterpart at his disposal to the future measures. In this context, he no longer has much to offer that would distinguish a left-wing reform from those made by the right. Moreover, opponents will have no trouble repeating the previous statements of the main members of the government, and of the President himself, emphasizing the useless, unfair or unacceptable character of the increase in the contribution period to 41 years and then 42 years…
He will also have to explain the inevitability of the reform through a strong communication campaign, and he will have to use all his authority. There is no doubt that François Hollande is gambling his international credibility, and therefore his financial and economic room for maneuver, in the pension reform. An increase in contributions, a compromise with the unions, withdrawal or postponement of the reform are no longer options: forcing success is the only solution now available to him.